Monday, January 30, 2012

Life is a Good Thing!

'Back in the Ridges ER, you don't know how lucky you are boy, back in the Ridges, back in the Ridges, back in the Ridges Er!'

I couldn't get that little song I'd put to Beatles music out of my head as I lay on the stretcher/bed at Ridges to begin this day way too early. This morning had us back in the ER with more of the chest/rib pain that brought me there ten days earlier. To find myself succumbing to the pain again was such a disappointment because of the progress I'd made. I had been off all my pain meds since Tuesday morning and over the preceding days I was working out on the elliptical, rower and treadmill and holding nothing back. People would ask me how I felt and I'd reply "great!"

I wasn't feeling so great last night. I took some pain meds but once they'd worn off the pain came back even stronger. It was 3:15 in the morning when Tammy placed a call to a doctor at the ER. He quickly phoned us back and after listening to me haltingly tell him my symptoms through winces of pain he urged us to come back in right away. He acknowledged my concern that there wasn't much they could do that they weren't already doing but he wanted to rule out an additional mass in my lung. So did I.

Two things they typically notice before they start jabbing needles into me; a fatty cyst near where they like to place the IV in my right arm and my heartbeat in the low 40s referred to as bradycardia. I had an FAA physical once where the nurse taking my vitals couldn't believe my heartbeat of 38. "You're trying to do that" she joked. I smiled knowing my many miles of running and biking were to thank. I usually beat them to the low heartbeat comment and tell them that it's normal for me but I've yet to say anything of the lump in my forearm before they do.

Chest X-rays and a CT yielded no new embolisms (or would they be called emboli?) but they did show a reduction in what was already there. That was good news. But why the pain? I was honestly just a little concerned that maybe they thought I was there looking to top off my pain meds for a high but they could see the grimace on my face and hear the pain in my voice. Not that they'd have any way of knowing but I'm no actor. The doctor gave me a diagnosis of Pleurisy, an irritation in the lining of the lungs. By 7:30 we were on our way home with orders to do a follow-up with my regular doctor in the next day or two. I'm not sure what good that will do but I'll follow through nonetheless.

I can sense that I'm in a mild depression from all of this; not just the distraction from my normal life and the discomfort I'm feeling but more so the limitations I now have on me that weren't there before—namely my riding. Before I get too involved in a great big buhu though, I'm quick to remind myself of all I still have and to not let this discourage me too much.

But the main thing this whole health interruption has done for me is that it's caused me to for the first time in my life to be honest with myself about my mortality. I like to say that when I'm on my bike I'm back in my 20s; I'm just a kid again and I think I've been able to carry that feeling of invincibility over to the rest of my life. Whoever would've imagined just a month ago that my mother could outlive me? There are no guarantees and that's what I'm coming to terms with.

I'll be off work for the rest of this week and then it's anybody's guess after that. I've lost my medical certificate to work traffic so I'm content to stay home on paid leave (banked sick-time) until this is resolved and I'm given the green light to return to working traffic.

I managed to get out of the house a little the last few days to try and break up the monotony of being home so much. I surprised the Wednesday night crowd from work at Ole Piper. A few bingo cards were thrown my way and I did my best to try and keep up but my head was still in a bit of a fog I'm afraid.

I made it out to the St Paul Winter Carnival on Sunday to view the ice sculpture contest. Tammy was stuck in the office so I went on my own. I would like to have stayed later to get photos of the finished work but after nearly 3 hours downtown I was ready to head for home. The plan was to return today and get those photos but life got in the way.

Life is a good thing!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Be Careful Not to Hit Your Head

This is a continuation of a post I wrote last night about being admitted to the hospital over the weekend.

I finally drifted off sometime after 5:30 Saturday morning to be awoken a little more than an hour later and wheeled through the catacomb of hallways that make up Ridges Hospital for an appointment with an ultrasound technician. She spent twenty minutes going over every inch of my legs in search of more clots. I asked her if she could tell me if she found anything but she said she couldn't discuss the results with me. I was taken back to my room and under a haze of Oxycodone and Morphine, unwilling or unable to sleep, I sat up in bed pretty much numb to the world around me.

Well-wishes by the dozens were coming in on my Facebook wall and they did a lot to brighten my day. I wanted to respond to them but I didn't have the strength.

It's so easy to become self-centered in a crisis such as this but I was trying to remember that I wasn't going through it alone. Tammy was by my side every step of the way and I knew Rachel was concerned. She saw my Facebook update and texted both of us: "Id like to be in the loop about this whole hospital business. So someone call me when u can."

The doctor assigned to the floor stopped by our room Saturday afternoon and spent at least 45 minutes with us explaining in detail all that had happened and what to expect going forward. He also told us of a clot the ultrasound technician had found in the upper thigh of my right leg. It was more disturbing news that I would have to try and figure out a way to accept. 'We're not talking terminal cancer...this is not that bad' was all I could think.

The main focus it seemed was in getting my pain under control. No matter what they tried, the sharp stabbing pains typical of those associated with PE were ever-present and made it nearly impossible to sleep. I finally managed to drift off sometime around midnight until the pain returned at 4:00 AM. Little did I know that I was done sleeping for the night as the nursing staff did all they could to provide me with relief but nothing seemed to help. I was a complete mess!

We anticipated that I'd be going home late Sunday but the doctor came by Sunday afternoon and said he was keeping me there until Monday or until my pain was better under control. I had no argument for him and was content to remain where I was. Mainlining morphine when it's needed was key and I didn't want to lose access to that supply.

Tammy and I had been discussing the issue of riding my bike once I'd made a recovery. My assumption was that I'd be able to but she wasn't so sure so we asked the doctor and he was very clear. He felt that my time on the bike was very beneficial for me and he wanted to see me resume my riding (not the falling) but that it would have to wait until I was done with my coumadin therapy—anywhere from 3 to 9 months. I simply can't afford to have an incident where I suffer a blow to my head because of the increased risk of an uncontrollable brain hemorrhage. Biking is out of the question. I assumed that I could ride my rollers but even those aren't acceptable because they pose the same risk. I'll have to be content with a stationary trainer and other forms of exercise.

I have to take a few lines to say that the staff at Ridges Hospital were amazing! Both the ER and the hospital staff. They couldn't have made our stay more comfortable and we're so thankful for the warmth they showed us. You could tell that they genuinely care about the well-being of their patients. To them, it was more than just a job. I thought about my own work and felt a little guilty for not having anywhere near the passion for my profession as they show for theirs. We were so impressed. Oh, and the food was much better than I anticipated it being!

I woke up Monday morning feeling like a new person. My pain was under control and I'd been able to sleep through the night. I was happy to be going home but I was also very grateful for my stay at Ridges and the care I'd received. In my debriefing with the doctor, he said I was free to carry on life as I had been before this episode but he cautioned me to "be careful not to hit your head." They were simple but important words of wisdom. We said goodbye to the staff sometime late morning and they let me walk out under my own power guided along by Tammy.

I just had a follow-up visit with my regular doctor as I write this and I have just a little more bad news to add to all I've written. I was told by the doctor who discharged me yesterday that there was a good chance I'd be on coumadin therapy for only 3 months, meaning I'd miss very little of this year's riding season. To my disappointment today my doctor said no, that when he's treating for PE, (clots in the lung) coumadin therapy must be for 12 months, no less.

Things could always be worse, I get that.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It Must Be the Bike

I hardly know where to begin but from what I gather I'm very blessed, lucky, call it what you will, to be around. Maybe that's overstating it. I don't know.

I woke up two Saturday mornings ago with a tightness in my ribs on my left side. I dismissed it as a pulled muscle from some firewood I'd lifted the previous night. A few days later the pain was still there and it wasn't getting better. I mentioned it to Tammy and she suggested I go in to be seen. Tammy is a telephone triage nurse and this is the sort of thing she deals with all the time. I knew she was right but I wanted to believe that whatever it was it would go away on its own.

I should've listened to her.

We went out to Mall of America Friday night to kick around for a while; the usual—grab some coffees, walk a couple of laps and find a restaurant for dinner. Throughout the night I was finding myself taking deeper than normal breaths trying to ease the discomfort I was feeling on the left side of my chest, being careful not to let Tammy notice. I was also trying to stretch the tightness away but none of my attempts were helping. By the time we left for our car, I knew something was wrong. We stopped at the liquor store on the way home for a bottle of wine and while Tammy went inside, I moved over to the passenger seat to let her drive. I was no longer in any condition to be behind the wheel. She suggested we go to urgent care and followed that up by stating that if I was calling the nurse-line she'd be instructing me to go to the emergency room. "Let's go there," I said putting a stop to my stupidity of the last several days.

When we arrived in the ER they wasted no time attending to me. After listening to a brief synopsis of what I'd been experiencing, the doctor ordered a blood draw to perform a D-dimer test that would detect evidence of a blood clot. He told us that he didn't expect those results to be positive considering my age and my vital signs but he wanted to be able to rule it out.

Positive they were.

The next step and one that would exacerbate my pain greatly was the CT. Laying in a prone position with my arms above my head while trying to hold my breath waiting for the image to be captured was so difficult. The pain was intense.

I know pain. I deal with Cluster Headaches yearly.

I was diagnosed with bilateral pulmonary embolus (a blood clot in each lung). The doctor referred to them as large. I wasn't sure what to think and it was getting late. We'd arrived at the ER around 8:30 and it was now after 2:00 in the morning. My body was tired but my mind was racing. It had been a long day for Tammy and she needed to go home to let the pups out. She kissed me goodnight and closed the door behind her as I sat on the edge of the bed.

I tried making light of my condition and posted to Facebook, updating my status with a pain-masked-by-morphine smiling photo from the ER. Alone with my thoughts for the first time I recognized that all I knew about clots was that they sometimes caused sudden death. Could that be me? With the charge in my cellphone running low I did a quick search online and what I read about pulmonary embolisms didn't do anything to allay my fears. I texted Tammy "I'm a little scared honey...should I be?" She responded, "What's going on?" I told her "Nothing...I'm just worried" "Call me, ok?"

She drove back to my room at the Ridges and we spent the night together. I needed her reassuring presence.

The next morning an ultrasound revealed that there was an additional clot in my upper right thigh. What's the reason for all of this I wondered? The doctor assured me that for someone in my physical condition the cause was one of two things: I either have a predisposition for developing clots or my body suffered some recent trauma that resulted in the clotting. The only thing I could point to was my Mukluk. I've taken so many falls on it in the month that I've had it that surely it must be the reason. More tests are being done as I write this that will help to determine if I am in fact prone to clotting. If not, then it must be the bike.

To be continued...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

We're Being Scammed!

Tammy got a phone call a few months ago from a company calling themselves Yellow Pages saying that they had a refund for us. Before she could ask any questions they informed her that I had signed up for advertising services (we're sitting on a domain name for a possible side business when we're retired) from them but that I was canceling the remainder of the services and that they needed to know where to send the $500. They asked her a series of questions and recorded her answers before transferring her to another telemarketer who began to explain the contract she'd just entered into. Say what? Tammy made it clear to them that she didn't sign up for anything and called them on the scam they were engaged in.

Tammy documented everything that had occurred and sent it off to the Minnesota Attorney General's office wanting to have a record in case they should later come after us. And now they have.

We got a call two weeks ago asking for a payment of $500 for services that had been provided in the name of Grapevine Art Glass. They played a recording for Tammy of her agreeing to a series of questions about the contract she had supposedly agreed to. She explained that the questions she answered were different than the questions they had paired up with her answers in the recording. She handed the phone to me and they explained that if we didn't pay they would be turning our account over to a collection agency. I asked the guy if times were so difficult that he couldn't find an honest way to make a living. He hung up on me.

Tammy did some digging based on the phone number they'd given and found that they were located in Canada but were using a dropbox in New York. She wrote the Attorney General's office in New York detailing the scam and to go on record with them. She also went online and found that these same people target all sorts of businesses and that oftentimes the victims will attempt to settle rather than spend time defending themselves.

We received our first invoice in yesterday's mail.

My concern has been that they actually do have a team of legal experts working for them who could somehow attach themselves to our assets unless we pay. I think it's a pretty safe bet that they've got nothing of the kind. We'll be hanging up on them and trashing any further correspondence they may send.

And by the way—who the heck is Pamela Gilmore?

I made it out to the Red Bull Crashed Ice event in St Paul on Friday night, curious to see what this bobsled-meets-roller-derby-on-ice-skates competition was about. I'd hoped to get some cool photos but all I could really manage was some video.  It was too cold to take off my gloves and manipulate my Lumix LX5 the way I'd need to get the shots I was hoping for. I walked back to my truck thinking that this was one of those events much better appreciated from a comfortable chair in the warmth of my home.

I was out on my Mukluk several times this week in temps that ran the gamut from unseasonably warm 50s to more normal single-digit temps that had my toes crying uncle after two hours even with my Lake winter cycling boots protecting them. I'm curious to see how my road bikes feel once I hit the streets this spring after having spent most of the winter on what amounts to a tank in comparison.

Each trip out on the roads and trails results in lots of mud caked on my bike that I'm careful to hose off, especially from the drive-train, after each adventure. I went to turn on the outside faucet after yesterday's ride but it was frozen. Hmm...that's a dilemma, but not to fret. I loaded my bike into the back of my truck this morning and brought it to the car wash and gave it a quick once-over before turning the spray on my truck of nearly 11 years.

Here's some video from yesterday's ride. Not so interesting to most, I get that but very nice to have for me years from now when this thing I do is only a memory.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pedaling Back Time

We have a lot less blown glass in our home than we did just a few weeks ago. Much of what we didn't give away as Christmas gifts was brought home by Rachel's friends. Tammy and I joke that these are what will be referred to as 'early Gilmores' years from now after we've made a name for ourselves.

Just kidding of course.

Friday's three hours in the studio were more of a humbling experience than anything for me but there are lessons to be learned from all those failed pieces. And actually, this is sort of what Steve was talking to me about last month. Rather than playing it cautiously because I'm so intent on having a piece to show for my efforts, I should push the limits of my abilities with the understanding that the piece will more likely than not be a failure in the sense that it won't make it into the 'box'. I can't honestly say that that was my mindset on Friday but pretending it was helped to ease my frustration.

Our Blown Glass set on Flickr continues to grow.

Tammy set up a blog last week. I'd intended to pimp it here but I think I'll wait and see if it actually gets off the ground first. It's still just taxiing. I do hope she decides to log into it occasionally and put down some thoughts.

We went out to dinner with our small group from church last night. We've been taking a break from our meetings during the holiday season so it was nice to get together with everyone at Chianti Grill in Burnsville. We kicked around ideas for this next phase of our bible study and Rob Bell's name came up. His most recent book, Love Wins caused quite a stir among fundamentalist Christians. Anything that rattles the cages among those that are so sure of themselves (because I'm not) I find appealing. Sign me up.

I made it out on my bike several times this past week in what continues to be one of the milder winters I can recall. Just beautiful weather we're enjoying and I'm so happy to be out of the house experiencing it. I was able to spend some time getting familiar with my GoPro video camera that I have mounted on the bars of my bike. I'm pleased with the handlebar mount and I do think it goes a long way toward diminishing the geek-factor as opposed to using the helmet mount. The best part is that now I'll be able to capture many more of my falls such as the one from my first outing with my GoPro. No mountain bikers were harmed during the filming of this short video.

Another plus of no longer holding my Bionic in my hand to shoot video is that I've got both hands on the bars which allow me to ride more aggressively. I like to say that when I'm on my bike I'm back in my mid-20s. My friends at work like to remind me that my bones would beg to differ. Hmmm.